I was a latecomer to smartphone technology, but recently I’ve been using several nice music-related apps in my practicing and teaching. Though I still own and regularly use my older devices, the apps have a couple of advantages over their traditional counterparts. For one, they are extremely portable. In the past when I traveled I usually brought my metronome and tuner, which though fairly small, still won’t fit into your coat pocket. Second, they are far cheaper than purchasing the standalone components, and for the most part function just as well. (Though I suppose if you include the initial investment in a phone and the monthly fees, the cost works out to be fairly comparable.) I should also note that adding an external microphone can substantially improve the function of many music-related apps, including tuners and decibel meters. And while there are lots of free smartphone apps out there for music, in my experience the paid ones are really the best way to go. The most expensive one I purchased was a strobe tuner, but at around 10 bucks it was a fraction of the cost of an individual tuner. If you’re considering stocking up on a few practice tools for your phone, here are my top picks, along with a few screenshots.
- Metronome: Frozen Ape Tempo Packed with lots of features, this is one of the best metronomes I’ve ever used. It compares very well with my old Dr. Beat DB-88, and even includes a tap function as well as the option of programming several presets. I can’t remember how much I paid for it, but it was less than 10 dollars. It has now become my go to metronome any time I travel.
- Tuner: Peterson Strobe Tuners iStrobosoft A very nice program which emulates the form and function of devices costing several hundred dollars. Although I’ve never been a huge fan of strobe tuners (my usual tuner is a Korg orchestral model), this one is well worth the price. The tuner is very responsive, and plus it just looks really cool when you use it. The only glitch I’ve noticed about it – which is common on lots of other tuners as well – is that it sometimes doesn’t pick up pedal tones very well, especially anything below a pedal F.
- Decibel Meter: Performance Audio Decibel Meter Pro I don’t use this app nearly as much as the first two, but it still comes in very handy on occasion. It is especially useful to demonstrate to students just how loud FF can be, or for a visual aid when they think they’re executing a crescendo/decrescendo but actually aren’t. I’m not sure if it works as well as a standalone decibel meter, but for my purposes it does the trick.
Despite some great advantages, smartphone apps do have a few drawbacks. Probably the biggest one for me is not being able to use two of them simultaneously, for instance the metronome and tuner. This may not be an issue on some tablet devices, but of course in that case the device isn’t as portable. If you already own these tools individually it probably isn’t crucial that you get them for your phone, but it is nice to have them in case you forget your regular tuner, metronome, etc. when you’re on the road. If you have some favorite practice tools for your phone I’d love to hear about them!